09 April 2017

Commonwealth's Omar Quiambao shares the ASICS Tiger x Commonwealth "Kultura" Story


Commonwealth’s expansion in the Philippines harbored great potential to initiate something remarkable, not just for the local retail landscape but also to put the country in the global spotlight. With Omar Quiambao’s many years in the business, he had cultivated relationships and partnerships with many international brands, which helps a lot in making the right actions for what they are about to accomplish in the Philippines. These partnerships brought them to work with ASICS to come up with a shoe collaboration. Being that it was spearheaded regionally, and by being both present in the Philippines, they wanted to tell a story specific to its culture.

With numerous ideas thrown around, Omar, Michael and ASICS Tiger chose to be inspired by the “Batok”, the traditional tattooing technique rooted in the Mountain Province in the Philippines. It dates back to the pre-colonial era, with designs and markings only a “mambabatok” is intended to inscribe. This craft is integral to their culture – so revered that the craft is entrusted only within the “mambabatok” bloodline. With the use of thorn ends and a mixture of charcoal and water, the ink on the skin is a symbol of pride for the Butbut tribe warriors, and a marking of beauty for the women.

Influenced by the mountainous region of the country, the “Kultura” collaboration revolves around the warrior culture of the Kalinga. It pays homage to the culture’s customs of tribal tattooing, regarding the adornment of the body and symbolism found therein, carefully preserved from modernism. Authentic, perpetuated, and true to the roots. 

This is an excerpt from Purveyr Magazine Issue 3: Collaboration
Words by Aaron Pugal & Photography by Steve Tirona


What is the vision for the Kultura collaboration?

With there being thousands of islands and well over 100 dialects in the Philippines, our vision was to go beyond the cliché of the national flag colors and wanted to avoid what people usually envision. Our goal was focusing on “Kultura/Culture”. We wanted to be able to highlight a part of the Filipino culture that is indigenous, so we focused on the Kalinga, an ethnic group in the Philippines that inhabit the mountains of Luzon. Due to the mountainous terrain and warrior-like culture of the people, the Kalinga were able to preserve their culture despite centuries of occupation in the lowlands by the Spaniards, Americans and Japanese. This include their custom of intricate art of body adornment that dates back a thousand years, drawing on the basic geometric shapes and nature-inspired designs.


We heard you flew home and made a trip to Kalinga to meet with Apo Whang Od. Could you tell us about that experience?

This is the overview of the journey – Tetanus and Diphtheria shots + 13-hour flight from Los Angeles + 5-hour bus ride from Manila to Baguio + 5-hour bus ride from Baguio to Bontoc + 2-hour jeepney ride from Bontoc to Buscalan + 1-hour mountain hike to the village of Buscalan, where Apo Whang Od lives.

I travelled from Los Angeles with a close friend, photographer Steve Tirona. We spent 4 days and 4 nights in the village documenting our trip, as well as the practiced art of the Philippines’ oldest mambabatok, 100-year old Whang Od, and her apprentice, great-grandniece, Grace Palicas.

There’s so much that could be told of the journey, from hearing warrior stories told in first person to witnessing literally hundreds of tourists over a Saturday and Sunday to observe and experience the art of Apo Whang Od. In brief retrospect it was an enlightening and humbling experience.


Experiencing the art of tribal tattooing firsthand and having immersed in their culture, do you think it validated the story you wanted to convey?

Although the product was designed before the trip, the storytelling and presentation of the project can now be told from an authentic experience versus it just being a source of inspiration. I believe having firsthand experience with the source of inspiration validates the authenticity of the endeavor.


Could you describe to us the design process it took for you to produce the shoe?

The design process started with a brainstorming session including both Commonwealth teams in the US and Philippines. Once we agreed and decided what our direction would be, several designs were mocked up then narrowed down to present to ASICS for approval before sampling.


Please tell us more about the aesthetic of the shoe. What are the strongest elements in the design that represent the concept best?

We looked to simplicity to help us communicate the inspiration of the shoe. We chose beige/tan for the foundation of the shoe for a number of reasons, to be wearable but also be a neutral color representing nature. The greatest signifier of the concept would be the sublimated neoprene sock. It is embellished with designs inspired by nature found on the arms and chests of the Kalinga people.


Lastly, what does this collaboration project mean to you?

Personally this collaboration for me represented a bit of a cultural homecoming. As a Filipino-American, to be able to come to the Motherland, see and experience the village of Buscalan, meet Apo Whang Od and to be able to share even just a sliver of Filipino culture through this project is everything. I hope we make Filipinos around the world feel proud, as well as inspire all people to take interest in the Philippines.

More about Commonwealth and the ASICS Tiger x Commonwealth GEL-LYTE V "Kultura" in the upcoming Purveyr Magazine Issue 3: Collaboration, which you can now order at our online shop.

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